This is really a great Jay McShann album. We do here a lot of solos by Charlie Parker who was the chief soloist in McShann's orchestra in the early 1940s. However, what shines here is McShann's band, his arrangements, his piano playing.
That is great, With his big band having so few recordings because of the recording band during WWII, it is great we have these additional recordings of his big 17 piece band including Yardbird Parker. Moreover, on some of the live cuts, particularly the Savoy Ballroom pieces, you have an electricity and interplay with the audience you won't hear even on his terrific studio recordings. By the time that regular recording had begun again, Bird had left the band, and McShann had reduced his outfit from a big swing band to small combos featuring his piano and a series of blues singers.
This is a collection features a number of air checks (recordings of radio broadcasts) from 1940 and 1941 as the Jay McShann Orchestra with its chief soloist and sax section leader Charlie Parker, toured the country. There are also a number of higher quality recordings that that come from Jubilee--a Jazz oriented program produced for Black soliders and sailors by the Armed Forces Radio Service duing WWII. There are several even higher quality cuts that come from Victory Disks--special records artists made for free that were sent to the troops in World War II.
My favorite part of this CD are the air check recordings from a performance of the band at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. In case you are not properly educated, the Savoy was "The Home of Happy feet," THE TOTAL AND ULTIMATE CAPITAL AND CAPITOL OF THE SWING ERA'S MUSIC SCENE.
This is the band's first exposure to the New Yorkers and their first national radio performance on the old Blue Network (the Trust busters decided that NBC was too powerful over the airwaves so the broke it in two. The new entity was called the Blue Network until it changed its name to ABC). You hear the folks just go wild over the opportunity to dance to the beat of McShann's great swing band. You hear them swooning and break into an ovation after the great Al Hibbler sings his mellow romantic song. In true Blues people style,the Harlemites shout back at Walter Brown when testifys in his blues number. At the time Brown's blues with the McShann band were selling hundreds of thousands of copies in Black communities across the country.
Of course it is great to hear the solos that Charlie Parker takes. One thing to note is that Charlie Parker was also the leader and drill sergeant for the reed section. If you are an aficiando of big band music, you will realize that the Bird really knew how to run his section. McShann has said that Parker was very strict with his players. His section is nuanced, on time, and plays very fluidly whether its assignments are lead or backup, sweet or hot.
Last but not least, the piano playing of Jay McShann really makes everything work. He not only leads the group with a steady rhythm and great cues as Basie did, but when the band quiets down to let him play with the rhythm section Hootie plays a whole lot more piano than Basie ever did.
This is one of those CDs that despite its poor sound quality on the air check cuts, you tend to keep on the CD player for more than one spin.
BTW Now (2004) in his mid-90,s Jay McShann is still singing the blues, still playing piano, and still inspiring all the good vibes that you hear on this CD. Check out his many other CDs.